To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism
By Ross Douthat
Simon and Schuster, 2018, 235 pages
For centuries, Catholic apologists have claimed that their institutional church was the “one, true church” founded by Jesus Christ. They also claimed that the head of their church, the pope, was infallible in teachings affecting matters of faith and morals and that the Holy Spirit prevented the pope from leading the church into any doctrinal error. But then along came pope Francis.
In this book, Catholic conservative, Ross Douthat, thoroughly examines the mounting controversy in the church over Francis’ “apparent” lifting of the ban on communion for remarried divorcees in his “Amoris Laetitia” encyclical in April 2016.
Francis was a bit of a dark horse when he was elected to the papacy in 2013, but the consensus was that he would bring a much-needed pastoral approach to the office after 35 years of the rigid doctrinalism of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, many of the voting cardinals were unaware that Francis was very sympathetic to the ideas of the liberal prelates of the church including cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany.
At the church’s Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015, conservatives and liberals clashed over the question of communion for Catholics living in “irregular unions,” i.e., remarried divorcees and cohabitators. Conservatives argued that the church must continue to withhold communion from people living in “adulterous” relationships, while liberals argued the church’s doctrinaire approach was alienating a large percentage of its membership. Both synods ended in stalemate, but Francis subsequently seemed to guilefully authorize the lifting of the ban on communion via two footnotes in his 2016 encyclical, which left the decision on communion up to parish priests on an individual basis.
Conservatives were stunned! Four cardinals sent a formal dubia (questions) letter to Francis, requesting that he clarify his encyclical. Francis ignored the petition while liberal bishops gleefully drew up guidelines authorizing distribution of communion to remarried divorcees in their dioceses. Francis subsequently added the weight of authorized magisterium to the liberal interpretation of the deliberately ambiguous document. Liberals are hoping “Amoris” opens the floodgates for further reforms such as intercommunion with Protestants and the blessing of same-sex marriages.
The “Amoris” controversy has significant ramifications for conservative Catholics. By lifting the ban on communion for remarried divorcees, Francis is de facto abrogating their proud claims of papal infallibility/preservation from error. But conservative Catholics are caught in a “Catch 22.” They cautiously refrain (at this point) from declaring Francis a heretic or recommending schism because one of their most cherished tenets has been absolute loyalty to the papacy. Douthat looks at the future of Catholicism with a good degree of pessimism and expects increasing polarization between the doctrinaire conservatives and liberal pragmatists.
Most Catholics in the pews and evangelical observers aren’t even aware of the mounting turmoil in the halls of the Vatican, but it’s highly ironic to evangelicals who are paying attention that many ardent conservative Catholics now consider this pope to be an undeclared heretic. This is extraordinary, folks! Even outlandish anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists such as Jack Chick and Alberto Rivera could not have imagined this current scenario in their wildest dreams.
I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in digging into the details of the “Amoris” controversy. For my review of another book by a conservative Catholic that critically examines “Amoris” and the swelling controversy, see here.
To my Catholic readers: On a personal note, I implore you to come out of Catholicism. Your faith is based on an un-Biblical sacramental system and the man-made traditions of very fallible men. Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone and then ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that upholds God’s Word without compromise.
“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” – Romans 10:2-4